The CFL pre-season schedule carries significant meaning to veteran players, too.
Just ask the handful of seasoned vets who stole the show from the eager-to-please newcomers and rookies on Saturday in the B.C. Lions’ 28-16 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Yeah, pre-season is an opportunity for the young guys to get out there, but it’s just as important for us (veterans) to get some things ironed out,” said Shawn Gore, who caught two passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. “We haven’t played a football game in almost six months, so there are a lot of things we still need to do to get back on the same page.”
Gore, a seven-year veteran, found himself wide open on the Riders’ goal line and hauled in a 24-yard pass from Jonathon Jennings for the game’s first touchdown. Jeremiah Johnson tacked on a two-point convert to push B.C.’s lead to 11-6 late in the second quarter.
Jennings’ night wrapped up with the second-year quarterback completing two of five attempts for a team-high 70 yards.
On the ensuing Saskatchewan possession, it was a Lions defensive stalwart, Ronnie Yell, who stepped up. He snagged an errant pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage and raced 50 yards for the second B.C. touchdown of the first half.
Richie Leone kicked two first-half field goals and the Lions took an 18-6 advantage into halftime.
“You still have to approach these games as if it was the regular season,” Gore said. “You need to get your mind right. You need to get back into your routine. You need to set yourself up in the right way because in two weeks time it’s all real.”
After an extended halftime break in which the power was knocked out at the stadium for more than an hour, play resumed and the Lions added to their lead.
Travis Lulay, now in his eighth year in the CFL, played the entire second quarter for the Lions. He engineered a pair of drives that were capped with Leone field goals from 42 yards and 21 yards, respectively.
Lulay hooked up with receiver Brian Burnham on a long pass-and-run play for a touchdown, but it was called back on a penalty.
For the Riders, the Chris Jones era did not get off to a winning start. The Riders’ new head coach and general manager joined the club in the off-season after he guided the Edmonton Eskimos to a Grey Cup championship in 2015.
He’s faced with rebuilding a team that finished 3-15 last season, and one player to build around on defence is linebacker Greg Jones.
Jones made his presence felt for Saskatchewan on defence and on special teams. The former Toronto Argonaut will be a steadying influence on the Riders’ defence, as the team will see an entirely new cast in its secondary. The front seven will see a handful of new faces well.
“When you don’t approach these games the same as you would a regular season game, that’s when bad things happen,” Greg Jones said after he recorded three tackles and one quarterback knockdown. “It being my first time playing with this group of guys and in front of this coaching staff, I wanted to make sure I put on the best show I could today.
“You always have something to prove because it’s a new year.”
Veteran receiver Clarence Denmark hauled in a 54-yard pass from quarterback Brett Smith for the Riders’ only touchdown of the night. That scoring play came early in the fourth quarter, one that brought the Riders within eight at 24-16.
Saskatchewan’s new head coach liked what he saw from his young team despite the loss. The obvious youth — eight of Saskatchewan’s 14 defensive backs that dressed for Saturday’s game are first-year pros — played well in Chris Jones’s eyes.
“When I went around the room and asked the question if this was their first CFL game I think more than three quarters of the guys put their hands up,” said Chris Jones.
“We’re going to be a good football team. Don’t get it twisted on that score tonight. They had five first downs in the half, so minus a play here or there, that’s a pretty good game defensively.”
Tyler Crapinga converted two of his three field goal attempts on Saturday. He missed a 48-yard attempt.
Terrance Cobb led the Riders with 58 rushing yards on 10 carries.
The Lions will host the Calgary Stampeders on Friday in their second pre-season contest, while the Riders will travel to take on the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday.